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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP, FAGPA

Getting Better Sleep

Insomnia is a disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or both. With insomnia, you usually awaken feeling un-refreshed, which takes a toll on your ability to function during the day. Someone with insomnia will often take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep and may get only six or fewer hours of sleep for three or more nights a week. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life. There's also evidence that an inadequate amount of sleep can:

  • Increase moodiness, depression, or anxiety

  • Decrease ability to concentrate

  • Decrease retention of new information

  • Increase errors or accident

  • Produce tension headaches

  • Reduce your ability to manage stress

  • Lessen your body's ability to fight off illness

How Much Sleep is Needed?

People often feel concerned about how much sleep they need. The amount of sleep a person requires to be alert and energetic during the day varies widely. Recent research indicates that when people are able to control their own sleeping without adhering to a structured lifestyle, they tend to sleep on average, nine, to nine and a half hours a night. However, if you feel refreshed, and energized throughout the day on eight or seven hours of sleep, or less, then consider that that is normal for you.

Common Causes of Insomnia

  • Stress. Concerns about work, school, health or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep.

  • Anxiety. Everyday anxieties as well as more-serious anxiety disorders may disrupt your asleep.

  • Depression. You might either sleep too much or have trouble sleeping if you're depressed. This may be due to chemical imbalances in your brain or because worries that accompany depression may keep you from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

  • Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin) and corticosteroids. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weight-loss products, contain caffeine and other stimulants.

  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Coffee, tea, cola and other caffeine-containing drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon and later can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol is a sedative that may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.

  • Poor sleep habits. Habits that help promote good sleep are called sleep hygiene. Poor sleep hygiene includes an irregular sleep schedule, stimulating activities before bed, an uncomfortable sleep environment and use of your bed for activities other than sleep or sex.

  • 'Learned' insomnia. This may occur when you worry excessively about not being able to sleep well and try too hard to fall asleep. Most people with this condition sleep better when they're away from their usual sleep environment or when they don't try to sleep, such as when they're watching TV or reading.

  • Eating too much late in the evening. Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down, making it difficult to get to sleep.

How To Get A Better Night's Sleep

The two essential ingredients for sleep are being tired and relaxed. Most research shows that when individuals are tired, they fall asleep within five minutes or less. Falling asleep is something you allow yourself to do, not make yourself do. When you focus on "trying" to go to sleep, this could increase stress, thereby making you less relaxed. Tell yourself that you are waiting for sleep to come, and allow yourself to relax in the meantime.

One of the best ways to improve your sleep is to replace a poor sleep routine with one that promotes sleep. In order to get a good night's sleep, you need to:

  • Strengthen your mind's association with the bed or bedroom as only a place for sleep,

  • Weaken the mind's association with the bed or bedroom as a place for stimulating activities that might interfere with sleep (like studying, watching TV, eating, etc.), and

  • Develop a consistent sleep schedule.

Additional Tips for Improving Sleep

There are a number of causes for sleep difficulties and the prevalent ones appear to be stress, worry and anxiety. If you are a person who finds it difficult to unwind, and takes your worries to bed with you, you could consider trying some of the following tips that may help to ensure a restful night’s sleep. Some of these you may be doing already:

  • First of all, make it a habit to go to bed and get up at the same time each night and morning.

  • Have your sleeping area as quiet as possible.

  • Wind down for the night at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

  • Eliminate caffeine and tobacco use late in the day (after 2:00pm).

  • Limit or avoid alcohol before bedtime. While alcohol consumption may initially help some people fall asleep, it interferes with a restful night's sleep by interrupting the sleep cycle.

  • Exercising late in the afternoon or early evening can help, but you should avoid any significant exercise within 2 hours of going to bed.

  • Do not have a visible bedroom clock. "Clock watching" often intensifies insomnia. Turn the clock face away from you or put it in a drawer.

  • If you experience a large number of distressing thoughts when you are trying to fall asleep, try scheduling a "thinking time" during the daytime. Pick a 20-minute period when you can focus on the types of thoughts that come to you when you are trying to fall asleep. When these thoughts come to mind as you are trying to fall asleep, dismiss them and remind yourself that you will deal with them during the next day's "thinking time." If this doesn't work, keep a pad of paper by your bed so you can "download" your thoughts to reconsider the next day. After a good night's rest, you will think and resolve those concerns better.

  • Have a warm bath before bed, and put some Epsom salts in the water to help relax your muscles. If you don’t have access to a bath, have a warm soothing shower instead.

  • A warm milky drink contains the amino acid tryptophan that may also help you to relax.

  • Put a few drops of essential oil of lavender under your pillow.

  • Avoid all caffeine like tea and coffee, chocolate and cola before bed.

  • Consider the supplement, Melatonin, which you can purchase at a health food store, but you should consult a health care practitioner first, to make sure it is okay for you to take.

  • Another idea that can help, is when you lie down, go back through your day starting with the last thing you did before getting into bed, and then right back to when you woke up that morning. This practice can often be very sleep inducing.

  • Last of all consider meditation as a very effective tool to aid relaxation and calmness

If you’re experiencing ongoing struggles with insomnia, it may be helpful to consider seeing a counselor or therapist. The Aguirre Center for Inclusive Psychotherapy provides individual therapy, group therapy, and relationship therapy which can help you address sleep difficulties or help address underlying anxiety, depression or PTSD that may be contributing to your sleep struggles. If you are ready to start your healing your journey you can get started through any of the steps below:

  1. Visit our Getting Started Page to request an appointment with one of our talented therapists.

  2. Learn more about our team of therapists and contact one of our therapists directly if you resonate with what they share on their profiles.

  3. Review our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about what you can expect about the services we offer.


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